Solid Alice Walker writes movingly of her father, of black and Native American folk cultures, of good friends, of travels, of Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode's house bombing that incinerated six adults and five children and made hundreds homeless.
Flaky Alice Walker brings forth her dream-wisdom of ancestors and a two-headed woman, anthropomorphizes horses and snakes, and happily yields her garden's tomatoes to field creatures.Any dissonance here is the frozen eye of the rationalistic, probably carnivoruous reader. Those given to bean sprouts and meditation will more immediately accept Walker's version of the unity of past and present, spirit and flesh, human and worm and soil, than those not spiritually settled in California, where Walker now lives. But her struggled-for and deeply felt vision of wholeness cannot leave any reader unengaged.
The writings in "Living by the Word" -- diary snippets, speeches, verses, letters, essays -- appear at first to be randomly arranged. They neither follow a calendar of months and years nor are they grouped by quickly discerned category. The organizing principle that emerges, eventually, is the author's evolving sensibility. She comes to believe and know what she believes and knows in the jabs and feints of observing, remembering, dreaming, thinking about, listening and recalling all over again.
Walker hears in herself the distinct voices of all her forebears. She loves the blacks of her clan she has known and imagined, and also cherishes her Cherokee grandmother. Grudgingly she recognizes, then finally accepts, a snarling, sniveling white plantation owner into her ancestral pantheon. The moral imperative Walker sets herself is to embrace her near and far past, integrating its horror with its beauty and its valor, so that she may transmit self-understanding into literature of hope.
As if the challenge of finding the common ground of spirits from clashing cultures was not enough, Walker, in these pages, also comes to terms with her late father, a man who was no stranger to either brutality or love.
What Walker has to say about her father and other ancestors bears greatly on her feelings about the characters she created in "The Color Purple." Her enormous strength is that she can understand and love violent black men without shrinking from portraying the effects of their violence on women and children.
She takes on the critics of her novel and screenplay here. Clearly, she was most wounded by, and angriest at, black men who either charged that male violence was exaggerated in "The Color Purple" or that she betrayed her people by bringing it up.